Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 91-100)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 91-100)
Note for the reader: this is Interlaced, sequel to Parallels and featuring the continuing adventures of my OC Parallel. An ongoing serial, it's being released here in 10-part blocks for your convenience.
We resume the story as our heroine has rescued Paige, stopped an orbital bombardment kinetic kill weapon with the power of her mind, and is just about to get back into the swing of things when she's stopped by Tansy, who seems frustrated with her life. So of course our heroine offers to help.
Part ninety one
16th January, 2007, before breakfast, Whateley
“Like how?” Tansy sounds skeptical, which I can definitely understand.
It’s cold out, she’s clearly chilly even if I am not, and I don’t want to move this discussion inside the hall where it would be overheard, so I glance around, spot a bench, and use a nudge of sorcery to blow the snow off it and warm it up. “Grab a seat”, I say, doing so myself, “I’ll keep the wind off. So I’m gonna make some guesses here, and you tell me if I’m wrong.”
“Damn, that’s convenient”, she sits beside me, I bend the wind out of our way. “Okay, fire away. Not like I’ve got anything to lose.”
“So number one. You clawed your way up the alphas under the Don, you made it to queen when he got what was coming to him, and you did it using masks that weren’t really you. You were telling yourself it’s worth it, to be the queen and have the power, but even while it was there, you couldn’t make yourself care. It didn’t feel real.”
She looks at me sharply. “If you’re reading my mind…”
“Educated guess, I’m not Foob.”
She looks me up and down, and laughs, “Yeah, you’re not, and thank god. So okay, I’ll give you that. Fuck, it was such a chore.”
“Ever had something you really liked, wanted to do, couldn’t wait to get started? I’ll bet doing it didn’t feel like a chore.”
There’s a pause, as perhaps she looks back at a gentler memory. “Yeah. Yeah you’re right. But it’s not the same thing. Keeping power is work.”
“Number two. The only way you were able to win it is by putting on a mask, and when you got it, it wasn’t you that had it, it was the mask. So you basically felt like your life didn’t have a place for you in it. It was all for this fake you, and you couldn’t make yourself care. And when it all fell in a heap… well, then you’re out of power, maybe even slightly relieved, and trying to get back there feels like climbing back up a greasy pole for a mask-you that you don’t even like, but you don’t know what else to do, and everything’s fucked up.”
She shuts her eyes and takes a deep sighing breath. “Fuck you for saying it, but you aren’t wrong. The Don’s pressuring me to join his dumbass crusade to be leader again, and the thought makes me want to vomit. But what else can I do?”
“I figure some of this is my fault”, I say. “I figure, my influence here is kinda making you chafe at anything that isn’t real, and that just makes it all worse. Like you can still go through the motions, but you can’t really lie to yourself about it.”
“Like I used to. Yeah.” She looks dejected. “That’s my life, now, though. I just feel stuck.”
“So I’m gonna suggest a thing, and I know it’s a big step and you’d be the first to try it, but… you know how my influence is just chugging along, and maybe it’ll take months, maybe it’ll take years, who knows? And meantime everything’s half-way and neither this nor that. So I’m suggesting what I do is, I grab a hold and give you a good solid yank, all the way along to the end of the line in one go.”
Various expressions cross her face. Disgust, curiosity, thoughtfulness, worry, mistrust. “And that does what, remakes me how you want me?”
“If I understand it right, it’ll remake you into yourself. Not anyone else’s idea, certainly not mine. Not willing to put up with a fake life of any sort. So you’ll be facing the world as yourself, and then the friends you make, and the power you collect, if you want it, those will be truly yours.”
“Would it make me into a slut?” That’s asked quietly.
“It’ll help you decide if you want to be one. What you’ve been up until now, that was climbing, right? That was putting on masks.”
She nods. “Yeah. Shit. I’m just really realising how much I don’t even know who I am. Did I even like that? I won’t deny it felt good, you know, physically. But also like a fucking chore. Damn, why am I even telling you this stuff?”
“Because you kinda trust me and think there’s a chance I can help.”
She sighs, closes her eyes and thinks. “This feels like the biggest devil’s bargain ever, you know. What do you get out of this, my soul?”
“I feel like I might get a friend.” I look at her. “I think I can see a bit of what’s under the mask, and I don’t hate it.”
“Friendship’s the price, then?”
“No price. I’d only be taking you where you’re already going anyway, and that’s not worth a taxi fare. Friendship’s more of a let’s see if it works out thing, I just have a feeling, you know?”
“Okay… okay, fuck my life anyway, hit me. Do it, now. Before I chicken out.”
“Alright, put your hand in mine.” I hold out my hand, and she reaches hesitantly, then grasps it. I bring big me forwards, my eyes light up with glow, and together we feel out the ways she is still out of resonance with us, and with the new life laws, and pull her gently into resonance. Big me slides back and I squeeze her hand. “There, done, how do you feel?”
“Kinda no different. I thought it’d be more dramatic.”
“Well, you’re still you. More intensely you, if anything. How do you feel about the Don and his plans?”
“Oh fuck him entirely, never in a million years. God, I’m well out of that nightmare and I never want back. Oh damn, that’s a weird feeling. And the Don is a snivelling loser and I have no idea how I could tolerate his shit. Also Hamper and Damper are fucking rapists. Ugh, I’d rather bathe in vomit. Don’t take that as a suggestion.” She laughs. “My thoughts are going a million miles an hour.”
“C’mon, lets go inside and grab breakfast. I know there was bad blood between you and the Kimbas, but they can hush and learn that I keep my own counsel about who’s going to be my friend.”
We’re joined by other me and Paige as we come in, finally released by the docs, although I’ve been told to come in later in the day to get my channel edits checked out. I’ve been telling Paige and Sara what’s going on, so Sara’s already got a chair free for Tansy. We head in as a group and join the lunch queue. Already, I can see we’re getting looks from the Kimbas.
But the expected confrontation doesn’t come from there first. Instead, a tall older kid with muscles like a football player says from behind us, “Tansy, why the fuck are you hanging out with miss spooky here?”
“Shove it, Hamper.”
I turn to give the guy attention, passing my tray to other me, who starts filling the two trays up in my absence. “Problem?”
Tansy says, “Hamper here was just fucking off. Weren’t you?”
“Tans, don’t be like that. What’s up with you, has she been messing with your head?”
“No, she’s helped clear it. Hamper, you are a rapist and a jerk, I never could stand you. Go away.”
“So it’s like that huh. I bet your new friend doesn’t know a bunch of things about you. You want them all to come out?”
She sighs and looks at me. “I was gonna tell her anyway. If you do, won’t change anything. Maybe she’ll hate me the one way, maybe she’ll hate me the other way. I hope not, but I’m done with nasty little secrets. And you’d best worry how I feel about all your little secrets too. Run along, asshole, we’re getting breakfast and you’re interrupting.”
“I am so gonna tell the Don about this.”
“Saves me dealing with his slimy ass”, she says to his retreating back.
I give her a reassuring hug, then accept my full tray from other me, and watch as she picks things out, with a pause before choosing, like she’s never seen breakfast before. Then she, Paige and I head to the Pack table, while other me heads to the Kimbas.
Toni’s the one who says it. “You and Tansy, seriously? Have you disappeared and been replaced with an evil clone? And why the hell is her hair green?”
“That’s the normal part”, Nikki points out. “She clearly just pissed someone off.”
“That’s kinda my fault, indirectly”, I say, and then explain what happened, without giving out personal stuff, but I say how she agreed to let me rush-influence her. So she’s turning over a new leaf, what’s on the other side of that leaf none of us know, but she doesn’t want her old allies.
Jade looks thoughtful. “I know the inside of her head all too well, and if there’s one thing that might reform her it’s that. If she has to confront all the lies…”
The various Kimbas kind of look at each other. Then Toni says, “Well, she still isn’t my favourite person, but I’ll grant her the benefit of the doubt for now.” And judging from the others’ faces, that seems to be the consensus.
“So anyhow”, Toni says, “Tell us what you did yesterday. I want to get this from the horse’s mouth. I don’t hardly credit the rumours.”
I grin. “They’re probably true, you know.” And launch into the non-classified rendition.
Over on the Pack table, everyone’s coming and giving Paige welcome back hugs, which is sweet and she’s all shy about it. Tansy, I notice, is kind of puppy dog eyeing the love pile-on. Then we get to sit down and eat, and this time Tansy takes over explaining what happened to her. “So yeah, I said yes, hit me, and she went and did it. And we’re kind of still finding out what it means.”
“Means you’re the guinea pig”, says Paige. “When people will be wondering, what does fully influenced mean, they’ll look at you.”
I bop her on the head for tactlessness. “Ass.”
Tansy nods. “She’s not wrong, though. And yeah, it is starting to feel different. Lots freer. Damn, I told Hamper to fuck off, I used to be terrified of him. While pretending to be his boss.”
I say, “He’s a nasty piece of work. And we’ll probably have to deal with that crew, there’s no way they’re letting you go that easily.”
Erin says, “Being around you should make them think twice. You’re gathering a bit of a legend to yourself, you know.”
“That’ll just make them try and be sneaky about it”, I say. “You know how the Don is. If he knew how to back down, he’d have laid off the Kimbas.”
Tansy looks embarrassed, but nods. “You haven’t been on the other side of them. They’re terrifying forces of nature. I was happy when you came and offered me an out. I mean, I’m still annoyed but… damn, now I look at it, it was all me being an ass, wasn’t it? And here I am feeling slighted when all they did was refuse to be stepped on. But you’re right. He’s gonna feel like you snatched me, he’ll want me back just for his ego.” She looks down thoughtfully. “’Scuse me a second”, and stands up.
From the Kimba table, I pause the discussion of “no seriously, you swatted a what?” to see Tansy heading our way. Everyone else hushes too and turns to look.
“Hi, Kimbas. Sorry to come bothering you. I sort of just realised how much of an abject bitch I’ve been to all of you, especially you Jade. And I apologise. I know that won’t make things better, but still, now I can see it clearly, I can’t not at least say so. Sorry. I’m rambling. Anyhow. I owe you all big, and I know it, okay?”
Part ninety two
“Who are you and what have you done with Tansy?” Toni knows, but she can’t resist getting a tease in.
Tansy looks at this me. “You did tell them, right?”
“I told them”, I say.
Toni says, “Ya it’s one thing to be told and another to see it. So are you gonna be miss goodie two-shoes now or something?”
Tansy pauses, makes a bit of a face, and then shrugs. “To be completely honest with you I have no fucking clue. I’m done with lying to myself, but I have no idea if that actually makes me nice.”
“Seems like a good start, at least”, Toni says. “On my part, apology accepted.”
Ayla says, “We have history, you and I, and one apology isn’t really enough, but if you want to make amends for real, we can talk after.”
“I can do that”, she nods. “I think I’m gonna be doing a bit of that for awhile.”
Jade breaks the awkward silence. “For me and Jinn, we’re willing to accept you might be becoming a better person, so we accept your apology for now, but will hold off deciding if we like you. No more kidnapping, okay?”
Tansy shudders. “I already swore off that, ugh. Hawthorne toilets. Not good memories. But yeah, sorry.”
“Good enough for me”, Jade smiles. And gets a mischievous look. “Maybe Sara can make introductions? I hear she has the monsters on a first name basis.”
“Ugh, could you not? I seriously just got finished working through my PTSD from that. Let’s change the topic, okay?”
“Okay, okay, nobody appreciates my ideas”, Jade’s pretend-moping. Causing Tansy to laugh and look a bit less green of skin.
Except now she’s looking at Nikki, and going white instead, from some memory. “Um. This might be enough to doom me, but Nikki, I… I helped Hekate. With that mess at Christmas. I had… an idea what she was going to do to you, a strong guess at least. I could make all sorts of excuses, like she’s a terrifying bitch and I couldn’t dare say no to her face, but the reality is I was being vengeful, and power hungry. I’m completely disgusted with myself. I’m sorry, really truly.”
Nikki looks at her for a moment, and then I can see her posture shift, and it’s Aung’s voice that says, “and will you admit this to the authorities?”
Tansy looks down. “If I do, they’ll put me away for literally life, they’ll weld the door and trash the key… but if you insist on it, then I will. Mercy, please?”
Aung says, “We are not so easily swayed to forgiveness as the others, but we will wait, and watch, and not yet answer either yes or no. You may earn your mercy.” And then Nikki’s posture shifts again, and she says, “What she said.”
Tansy takes a breath in, lets it out, and nods. “I’ll try. Okay, I’ll quit taking up your time.” She heads back to the other table, looking shaken.
Plopping herself down in her seat at the Pack table, she shudders. “That was not easy. And there’s so many other people. I don’t think I’m gonna survive this.” She puts her head in her hands, and when I put an arm around her, she leans into me, and cries. “I’m sorry, I’m just a blubbering mess. Why can’t I control my emotions?”
It’s Hippolyta who answers that. “I think, you can control them, but do not want to. Lies start with the kind of control that sweeps feelings under the carpet. You choose to face the pain and not deny it. There are other kinds of control, but you have not learned them yet, I think.”
Tansy sighs, tears aren’t running down her face any more, but she stays leaning against me. “I think you’re right, and that’s why I’m about half way to manic. There’s so much I just… never got used to handling any way but denial. Damn, this is gonna mess me up for a bit, isn’t it?” She looks up at me. “Also I think I’m turning into a dyke, because you smell so nice. And I said that out loud. Oh god, I have no filter and I’m doomed.” She covers her face again. Paige is hiding a giggle behind her hand.
“Well upside, maybe you meet someone who doesn’t mind at all that you find her nice smelling. Like me for example”, I say.
“Oh good. I mean, bad, I mean, oh hell. It’s going to trash my useless mask of a reputation but…”, and she determinedly pushes her breakfast tray aside, stands, steps up onto the chair and then the table, and stamps hard to make a bang and get attention, causing a hush. Pitching her voice up to carry, “If Saladin can goddamn well come out, so the fuck can I. My name is Tansy Walcutt, my codename is Solange, and I’m a goddamn dyke. I like girls. I… don’t think I like boys. And there, I’ve got no damned reputation left, and you may all fucking laugh at me.” And she jumps down.
The first one to clap is Jade. Then the Kimbas and Pack join in, and then like Saladin, the whole of Poe. And a number of others. Clapping and cheering, while she’s hiding her face in her hands and crying. But I can see, also smiling at the same time. I don’t think this is the response she expected.
I pull her into a hug, and it turns just naturally into a kiss, and we both get quite involved in the kiss, and it takes a moment to notice the cheering went up a notch. Hehehe. When the kiss ends, I say, “I’m poly with Sara and Paige, and I sometimes play with Petra and Jet, if you don’t mind that? And Erin’s exclusive with Sara but we’re close.”
She says “I’ve fucked half the school. No complaints from me.”
“Then welcome to the family.”
Much hugging ensues, and Tansy’s practically glowing and also crying, and I think she hasn’t felt this included in… basically ever.
Except, I have two bodies in the room, and what one can’t see, the other can - trouble headed our way. Hamper, another kid who looks so similar to him I’m presuming its Damper, and some teacher, a black guy in a tweed suit.
“Heads up, Tansy, I think we have unwelcome company.”
She blinks and looks up. And frowns, as the group reaches us. “Doctor Carstaires.”
“Miss Walcutt. We meet under unusual circumstances. Hamper, Damper, thank you, you may go, now.” Those two look like they don’t want to be dismissed, but leave with bad grace, smirking and making throat-cut signs at me. He continues. “Miss… Parallel. We haven’t met before. Do you have a name you wish to share with me?” His accent is precise and British, with Jamaican undertones.
“I’m Jules, no surname”, I say.
He nods, “Then I shall call you miss Parallel for now. Come along with me please, and you too, Miss Walcutt.”
He doesn’t lead us far, just nabs an empty classroom in Schuster and sits us down, putting an obvious recorder in front of us and pressing REC. “Alright. This is being recorded, do either of you wish to have a lawyer present?”
I shake my head and so does Tansy.
He continues, “Miss Parallel, I know you haven’t been assigned any psychic arts classes, because you don’t have a psi rating, and that may have been a mistake. Do you know what the Canon of Psychic Ethics is?”
“I’ve read it when I read the library”, I nod. “I agree with it. Outside of defending myself or others, I wouldn’t interfere with someone’s mind without their explicit consent.”
“But you do have the capability?”, he asks.
I nod. “Several different ways. Biological control. Sorcery. Influence. Probably more if I put my mind to inventing them, which I haven’t.”
“Then you will begin taking psychic ethics classes immediately, whatever else comes out of this. I will speak to your adviser and arrange timing.” I nod to that.
“Now, next”, he says, “Miss Walcutt. Tell me what happened to change your personality quite so radically, and so suddenly.”
“It was consensual.”
He says, “You know full well that the victim of a psychic attack often thinks that. Tell me the what, please, and the why.”
“Well, you know her radio show Saturday?”
“Yes, I listened to it.”
“Then you know what influence is. She used that on me, but all the way up to eleven. Dragged me right the way down the line to the end in one go.”
He looks at me, “You can do that? I thought it was involuntary.”
“Beneath a certain level I can’t turn it down, it’s just a function of being around me”, I say. “But I can turn it up. And if I bring big me forward to help, I can pull someone into full resonance.”
“And can you undo it, put them back?”
I pull a face at the thought. “I honestly don’t know. It would be pushing them uphill, it might not be stable at all, and I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t, It would be like sawing off an amputated limb I’d helped them regrow, unethical even if it put them back to a previous state.”
“So what you did is effectively irreversible.”
“Alright, miss Walcutt, continue, why did you consent to this?”
She takes a moment to decide how to answer, then says, “I’d got myself into a trap. Chasing power I didn’t want, through people I didn’t like, because of lies I couldn’t make myself let go of. I could see the trap but not make myself step out of it. I was talking to Jules about it, and she suggested running her influence on me, all at once, not spread out over months of time. So instead of being inched out of the trap, all the while digging myself deeper in trouble until I finally gave up and started digging the long way back out, I’d be yanked out in one go. Just not able to live a lie any more, at all. All my reputation and shit would come crashing down, but I felt like I didn’t mind that.”
“And do you have evidence of this conversation?”
She shakes her head. “We talked outside, it’s probably on the cameras, but we didn’t want to be overheard.”
“I… was embarrassed”, she says.
I add, “I didn’t want my friends to attack her. There’s been bad blood between her and the Kimbas, she’s already gone a long way to repairing it, but this was before that. They might have started something I couldn’t damp down and the moment would be lost.”
“The moment, hmm? So you were planning something?”
“I was planning to try and befriend her. I felt potential and hoped to bring it out. Her being deposed from the Alphas represented an opportunity to face her with one foot out of the trap. Our conversation started by chance, but my intent had been simmering, if on the back burner, for a bit. I would have arranged an interaction, one way or the other. The actual idea to use deliberate influence, rather than lean on the ambient to nudge her, popped up after we got talking. But it seemed to work well for both of us.”
Which makes Tansy chuckle. “You’re sneakier than you look.”
Doc Carstaires looks curious. “And how do you feel about the conversation, now that she has laid those cards on the table?”
“She told me before I said yes, that what she wanted was friendship. I asked if it was the price, she said no price. I think she had an idea she could get me as a friend, you know, the proper way. No need to twist my arm.” She chuckles. “I should have known, after Saturday. She’s a sharp negotiator when she wants to be. But then, what she was after, both times, that was a win for me and a win for her.”
Doc Carstaires nods thoughtfully.
Part ninety three
“Do I need to go into Saturday?” Doc Carstaires asks.
Tansy and I look at each other, and giggle. I say, “Not if you have any prudish sensibilities. And influence wasn’t involved except, well, indirectly. Via certain rule changes.”
He chuckles. “Then we can safely leave that aside. Alright. I won’t detain either of you further, as lessons are about to start, but I have to warn you both that I’ve concluded the matter needs to be referred upward. The reasons are the irreversibility, the fact it has changed Miss Walcutt’s personality quite radically, and the fact negotiation was carried out without witnesses and without involving school authorities or parents. You will understand, since what we discovered after Christmas, we have reason to worry about students taking matters into their own hands. Miss Walcutt, will you be prepared to undergo a full psychic examination?”
She looks at me, worried. Then says, “I don’t like Foob, but he keeps secrets. If it’s him, then yes.”
I add, “Foob already knows all my secrets, I think. He’s welcome to check me too.”
Doc Carstaires nods. “Thank you. You’ve both been cooperative. I shall say no more.” Was that a pointed glance at Tansy? But he leaves, giving us a chance to catch our breaths, and me to give Tansy a comforting hug.
“I’m just thinking back to Saturday. You were already working on me then, weren’t you?” She chuckles. “Feels like I was played all the way down the line, but then, played into something I wanted. Strange feeling.”
I sigh. “As soon as we get an opportunity, which is probably not now - I’m already headed to my classes with my other bodies, but you need to head to yours - I need to tell you just how deep that particular rabbit hole goes. Yes, I have been playing with a few advantages. But also yes, I’ve been trying to make things actually work out well, for you amongst others.”
She nods. “Lunchtime perhaps. I have fourth period free.”
I grin. “Lunchtime works for me.”
I’ve got Necromancy, Dyffud, and devisor lab. Paige walks with Sara and me over to Necromancy, while I keep the two of them filled in about what Carstaires is doing. The ex-alphas have surely had enough run-ins with the wrong side of psychic ethics to pick the stuffiest prof to sic on us. My guess is they have some sort of board of ethics to refer me to, but Sara shakes her head. “There isn’t one, oddly enough. More like particular individuals they go to. But if it goes high enough up the line, there’s the Head, and the school board.”
“I’d be surprised if the Don has any pull with the faculty here, especially after he was deposed. But I’d be unsurprised if he has some pull on the board. Either his own, or borrowed.”
Sara nods. “His obvious next move, yes.”
Paige says, “Time to bring the hammer down on him. I have no need to hide the Circuit Breaker any more, and he’s messing with one of ours. Two, in fact…”
“Hold fire, but ready the blow”, I say. “Wait until he’s done revealing his allies.”
Paige nods with a slightly dark grin. “I can do that. Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t have the files, they’re in offline media, but I have a conversation… There’s a DVD out there with the Don admitting mind rape. And I suspect Tansy might know more. Although Kodiak probably holds the keys, now. A good lead to begin with.” She chuckles. “I’ll busy myself, you two have a good lesson.”
We kiss her bye and head into the classroom with smirks.
When I arrive at Dyffud’s class, I can see that Becca is already there, and they’re talking. It only takes a moment to change into sweats, and then I join them. “Come in”, says Dyffud. “I’ve been hearing interesting stories about you.”
“Was it the orbital bombardment one or the messing with my channels one?”, I tease back.
“Oh both, staff has scuttlebutt like you wouldn’t believe, but from Becca here, about your channels.”
“They’re linked”, I say. “I burned myself out badly catching that bullet. Then I went and chased down the place that got surge-burned and fixed it to carry a heavier current.”
Becca says, “What she did is a little out of my depth. I’ve seen cultivation result in wider channels, over decades of effort. But she seems to have just reached in and widened them. As far as I can tell, they’re flowing very well, and could carry a higher level of chi, but she has no training with it.”
Dyffud nods. “She might be able to widen them in an instant, but growing into her new abilities will take longer. Of course, this one also learns extremely fast. I’ll pick up the martial side, but could you take her on for the less martial forms of cultivation? I don’t think morning Tai Chi will be enough for this.”
“Chou Lee is still my primary pupil.”
I say, “For obvious reasons, I’m very flexible on time.”
She nods. “There will be time, but it will be irregular. Not a scheduled class. I will simply turn up and say, a copy with me please.”
“It seems a very Taoist way to take lessons. I can certainly live with that”, I say.
In devisor lab, I’m busy trying to solve the bridging to links issue, based on what Sara gave me yesterday. Paige’s powers connect her mutant trait to the electronic world, and the mechanism underlying it is the abstract principle that will let me connect my stuff up to a spell at the soul level. Turning that abstraction into a practical gizmo, though, is proving troublesome. The simple solutions need six dimensions. And I’ve never tried to make warps at the atomic scale. It’s proving fiddly. Unfortunately, big me really isn’t at home in the physical world, and can’t help much except as a simulator-calculator. And the fact that I can simulate a thing doesn’t mean that I can make it.
In the mean time, I’m getting odd looks for making vacuum bubbles appear, produce burnt resistor smell, and collapse again. I’m in full on Muttley cussing mode, calling it a rassle-frassle bedanged thing.
Bugs is the one who decides to come over. “Looks like you’re trying to make something and can’t get it to go?”
“Yeah, the warp keeps collapsing on me”, I sigh. “It’s too fiddly to hold and drop in the atoms at the same time. They keep setting up reverberations and collapsing it.”
“Can I see?”
“Ya, Jade gave them to me. Nice piece of work. I don’t even mind my subspace stuff being obsoleted.”
“Okay, I’ll send you a math summary and a simulation image.”
It takes a bit of work to crunch down the math into something more like a sketch that should fit in a physical mind, and I blat it over, along with my latest, non working simulation.
I may not have crunched it enough, because she goes white and has to sit down. “Ow, warn a girl, would ya? I feel like I’ve been whacked by a space alien textbook from Mars. What’re you trying to do with the godawful thing? Looking at that image is giving me the inside-outs. Uh, kinda looks like you’re trying to make a binary switchable junction and it’s moving the information… somewhere? God, if your head is like this…”
“The full math won’t fit in my head either, but I’ve got a non-physical part that can hold it”, I say. “The gadget is for moving physical information to where it’s reachable from soul level. And others with the flow reversed can move it back.”
“Soul… oh! I see, you’re hooking it up to the links, aren’t you?”
I nod. “First as a one off, and flowing the info more or less directly to me. But later, I kinda hope to be able to do quite a lot with it.”
She grins as she thinks of the possibilities. “Oh this’ll change everything. Well, if you can figure how a human machine could make it, anyhow. That’s important to be able to manufacture at scale. They always bother us about that.”
They presumably being the teachers. But hmm. That kind of gives me an idea. “Hold that thought. I’ve been trying to make the warp myself. But what if I made a machine to make it…”
She grins, knowing the signs of an engineer with an idea. “Go for it, I’m rooting for ya.”
I notice though, as I get calculating a sequence of precursor machines-to-make-machines, that she heads right for another cup of devisor coffee. I do hope I didn’t do her harm.
Necromancy class today is surprisingly hands-on. Circe’s style is definitely different! We’ve got live frogs and necromantically re-animated frogs and we have to observe the difference. I mean, they aren’t too different to look at, but the differences on life sense are stark. And when I soul dive one, the connections are completely messed up. I end up having to ask Circe to let me repair them, because I just can’t stand seeing them half-connected like that. Which she agrees to, and then everyone gets to watch while I reconnect their souls right and repair their life processes. I’ve got live ones for comparison and it helps. When we’re done, well, they’re all live frogs. And I get to call necromantic magic sloppy and half-arsed. No wonder it has a bad rep with the nature types. And then they try and see if there are differences between repaired frogs, and never-dead ones, and that makes for an interesting discussion too. (They couldn’t find any, but some people insisted it was still unnatural life, and Sara called that a distinction without a difference, and it got a bit heated.)
With Becca gone, Dyffud’s class picks up like the last one, attack and defend, defend and be attacked. But he weaves in chi stuff, like, getting me to really put effort into only moving intent-first. And try and feel out how his intent is moving. Having some of my attention at the channels level helps. I can see, too, when his attacks touch it (pretty often) and speculate how to mitigate. When I ask him if I should be hot-fixing the channels level, he says “In a real battle, yes. Here, no. I want you to feel the effects and learn to compensate for those. And I won’t do anything lastingly destructive. Don’t tinker lightly at that level. It’s as essential to life as your autonomic nerves.”
“Only one surviving chi mutant”, I say.
“You know that? Good. It should put a slight brake on your desire to fiddle with everything.” He chuckles. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed it. You aren’t happy with anything you haven’t monkeyed with and made better. Most especially yourself.”
“So far so good”, I tease.
He nods. “Luck and help, and you do actually ask for guidance and try things slowly at first, which is better than some.”
“It’s true, but it’s also true I’m trying to change in a hurry”, I say. “I’ve got my reasons for rushing.”
He nods. “I can feel that urgency in you, too. Be careful it doesn’t distort you. You may end up so busy growing sharp edges you forget to grow softness. Even in the martial arts that’s important.”
We spend the rest of the lesson practising soft martial styles, I think I recognise some Tai Chi in there, and maybe Bagua Zhang? And as expected, I am repeatedly handed my ass. This class is definitely good for my humility, although I’m also learning a lot of technique.
Part ninety four
End of second period, and I need to head over from necromancy class to costume design. I’ll just vanish the me that was in Dyffud’s class, she’s sweaty. And I’m still busy down in devisor lab, and making good progress on my link-connected instrumentation pack. It should sit flush against my back like a glue-on backpack, and once I’m done putting it together I should be able to appear one in place whenever I need it. All of the instruments have separate link feed, and I’ve got just about anything they put in the cockpit of non-military planes except active radar. That would bulk it up and I’ve got g-sense. I still put passive radar, though, and radio. The whole thing runs off the same kind of miniature power plant as my sabers. I’m rather looking forward to giving it a go.
As I’m walking across between classes a flash of blonde yellow catches my attention, and turning, it’s Tansy, sat on a bench and looking like she’s been crying. Okay, I’ll split, one of me heads to class, one crunches through the snow, over to her. She looks up, and then down again, hastily dabbing at her face with a tissue. Then back up. “Hey Jules, don’t you have classes?”
I point. “That’s me over there going to ’em. What’s up? Trouble?”
She sighs. “That must be so useful. Yeah, I thought I had classes too, but I just got tossed out. Today has…”, her voice catches, “Today has not been easy.”
“Want to talk about it? Or want hugs?”
A short snort of laughter. “Why is it the first time ever someone’s asked me that? Damn. But yeah, give me a second and I’ll talk.” She takes a deep breath. “Okay so, all morning it’s been the same damn thing. I turn up to class, I realise I’ve been coasting and paying someone to do my homework, I panic and try to cram-read the textbook, teacher confronts me, and it just all comes out. And they throw a fit. I just got thrown out of French lit. Not sure if I’m off the course, or just out for today. Fuck, I’m so doomed. I wouldn’t go back, but, old me knew how to lie. New me just can’t, half the damn time. Or is so spectacularly bad at it that it comes out as a mumble.”
I nod. “I think it’s because what you’d be lying about is your life. Means you’d have to live inside the lie.”
She pulls a face at that. “Ugh. Yeah. Point, I suppose, but my grades are going to be shit. They’ll blame it on you, you know? You broke my brain.”
“Handle that problem when I come to it”, I say. “I’m thinking you’ll catch back up in no time, if you want to. Cram the texts, read the notes. Talk to the teachers where you’ve got gaps.”
“This is gonna be so much work”, she says in a small voice. “There goes all my free time.”
“Look, what’s your next class after lunch? We can study it up together.”
“You’re a freshman, you don’t have the prerequisites.” She sounds a little sullen.
“I learn fast. Trust me.”
“Okay, okay. Economics for villains.”
“Got the text?”
“In my room.” She gets up, brushes off snow, and we set off together. As we walk, she says, “Back when I had people to spy for me, I did ask them to look into you. The answers I got back, I thought they were exaggerations. Did you really read the whole library?”
“All of ARC, and about two thirds of Whateley so far. Mostly because I’ve been distracted, or the remaining books are on dull topics. Like, who actually needs to know the ins and outs of British cricket?”
She laughs, “Yeah, I can see that not being top of your reading list. But, you know, the answer I got most was, she’s harmless if left alone but she fucks people up when they cross her. Makes me wonder what was going through my head when I confronted you.”
I consider that. “Felt like you wanted someone to listen and care.”
“Why pick you, though? Although, I suppose I didn’t exactly have options.”
“I think you’re a better judge of character than you let yourself notice. You met me Saturday, you had time to form an impression. You knew I’d give you a fair hearing.”
“How’d you mean, than I let myself notice?”
“Well, you kinda had to have silenced a few alarms, given who you were hanging with.”
She winces. “Harsh, but fair. Of course I was no better. Was, am, what even am I now?” She looks down. “I feel like you woke up my conscience, but, even with that, all my habits are what they were. I keep thinking things and then feeling awful for even having the idea. And there’s a bunch of things I know will work, but then I’d have to live inside the lie, so they’re non-starters. Suddenly I’m a beginner at my own life.”
“My suggestion, look for the win-win, and ideally not just trade-offs, but every part of the deal beneficial. Then you’re working with the new rules as a wind at your back. You can even be sneaky about it, you don’t have to give that up. They don’t necessarily have to know your plans. As you will later discover.”
“You’re still saving that for lunchtime, huh?”
I nod. “Study first. Here I am, scheming to make the second half of your day nicer than the first, you see?”
She laughs. “Alright, alright. I get what you mean.”
In costume design class, I’m on a mission to find out what a suit needs to be space capable. It turns out to be a series of trade-offs. Do I want a contained air bubble, or would pressure from tight-woven fabric be enough? Do I want radiation shielding? What kind, passive mass shielding, or active force field? What about micro-meteors and orbital junk? How about heat control? The sun is extremely hot out there, and the shadows are very cold.
Given I don’t actually plan to do much on orbit, it might be simplest to just stick with what I’ve got. Really, the biggest problems for me are heat and radiation. I mean, I already know that I can tank a lot of radiation, but it still does unpleasant things to me. And, well, I roast as easily as any other meat based lifeform. As has been recently demonstrated. Even if I could just heal the damage, outside of an emergency, my rule against being callous prevents it.
Maybe I’m thinking too physical? Could I use a spell to turn the nasties aside? That… actually makes sense. I can easily build in rate and cumulative dose triggers, make the response scale to the problem, and leave it up 24/7. Bonus, that would give me something like an early warning sense, I’d feel it go active. I’ll need to study the spell structure though, physical phenomena are not something I’ve messed with much. I wonder who has radioisotopes so I can test it?
Tansy closes the book. “Enough, my brain’s complaining.”
I nod. “It’s cool. You did a lot. And you knew more than you thought you did.”
She leans back in the chair, which is a pleasant sight. “How in hell did I learn stuff when I was just ‘meh’ about it at the time?”
I consider that. “Looking back, how did you feel about it? Like, before the class started.”
“Like it was beneath me. I’d have minions to do that.”
“And during the actual lesson?”
She pauses, then says, “Sometimes it was interesting. But I pushed that down.” She sighs. “There’s this whole pattern playing out in my head, it goes something like, what on earth are you doing, Tansy Walcutt, slumming it with the victims, when you’re the predator. So I generally went and did something awful.”
“Don’t get caught in that for now”, I say. “Try thinking back to the feeling of interestingness. And jumping around, thinking of other stuff you found interesting in the same way.”
She looks over. “What’re you trying to do?”
“Connecting up dots.”
“Ah.” She looks thoughtful. “I see what you mean. I never connected the dots because I didn’t like what they’d draw. But now I look… I guess I like stuff? Shit, am I a nerd?”
I laugh. “Being a nerd is an endearing feature. Look, I think what kinda happened this morning, you got hung up on your own image of yourself as not bothering to learn things. But the reality is you did kinda learn them, despite yourself. There’ll be studying to do, to cover gaps, but you needn’t panic. I bet you’ll be able to sync up in no time, even in the classes you had trouble in this morning. They were just shocked, so were you. Talk to the teachers, it’ll work out.”
She sighs. “Oh god I hope so. And now it kind of does feel that way. Damn.”
“C’mon, time for lunch”, I say. “And then all the family secrets, good and not so good.”
She nods. And smiles. “You know, that was my first time in years just hanging out and studying like that? Like, Sahar studies, but she doesn’t share. Or just casually talk like that.”
“Don’t write her off, new you might get along with her. Or at least find a different kind of détente.”
She laughs. “Stranger things have happened. Hell, Tansy damn Walcutt coming out to everyone in Crystal Hall. That was pretty damn strange.”
“Seemed brave and wonderful to me.”
“Hartford’s gonna kill me for blowing all my straight girl cred.”
“Ask her who’s the most eligible lesbian on campus right now?”
“And how many lesbians are there? Besides, I’m with you.”
“I’m notoriously polyamorous. Your choice whether you want to be too. And the answer is way, way more than you’d think. As you shall soon discover. But that way leads to secrets I can’t reveal… yet.”
She grins. “Seriously, you give me hope for my sneaky side. You and your secrets. Okay, let’s go.”
Crystal Hall is filling up as one of me makes my way in from costume class, and the other with Tansy. There’s a sort of feeling of tension in the air, in the hall. I exchange looks with Tansy. We both know something sure is up, but what?
Trays full of tasty looking food, we’re making our way to our seats when there’s a banging on the table, it’s the Head. She looks like she hasn’t slept.
“Okay, shut the hell up, I’ve got some announcements. First up, yearbook photos are on the first of February. Ms Hartford will be sending around a mail. Read it. Second, our negotiations with the US government are proceeding, and we’ve got an agreement that students who were not involved in Monday’s battle will be permitted exeats without being harassed, so most of you are no longer confined to campus. Third, most of our visitors will be leaving today. Those who remain will be staying to ensure the school’s safety until negotiations conclude. Which will, I hope, be soon.”
She looks around the room. “And now finally I hand you over to Mrs Horton, who is the house mother of Poe Cottage. She has an announcement to make.” She gestures to Mrs Horton, who stands up, while the Head sits down.
Mrs Horton clears her throat, takes a deep breath. “Last Saturday night, all the students in Poe Cottage agreed by unanimous consent that we would reveal the Poe secret to the school. After the events of this morning, this feels like the right time.”
I grin to Tansy, making her give me a ‘what?’ look back. This is going to change everything.
Part ninety five
Mrs Horton looks around the silent Crystal Hall. “Since the vote on Saturday, the upperclassmen and I have met to discuss how we should release this secret.” She gestures, and a number of people stand up around the hall. Hippolyta at the Pack table. Several others I recognise.
Continuing, she says, “We decided the best way was to make it personal. And so that’s why I’ll be introducing you to these upperclassmen. Some of you already know them, or think you do. You may learn something new about them today.”
With a gesture towards one of the students, a boy, she starts things off.
“Hi, my codename is Banned Aids. I’m a healer and I’m looking to go into medicine as a career. I’m also very gay, and that’s why I was placed in Poe.”
“Hi, my codename is Zenith. I run the WARS radio station, I’m the fixer at Poe, and I run with the Parkour Hooligans. I was born a boy, and I gradually became a girl after manifesting. I’m a lesbian. That’s why was placed in Poe.”
“I am Hippolyta. I like girls, do not like boys. This is why I was placed in Poe.”
“Hey, I’m Shrike. I was born in the wrong body, but thankfully when I manifested, that fixed itself. Who I like to date is my own damn business. That’s why I was placed in Poe.”
“Hi, my codename is Befana. I really, really like girls. That’s why I was placed in Poe.”
As the introductions go on, I glance at Tansy and see tears running down her face, unheeded. I pull her into a hug. She looks at me and whispers, “you too?”. I nod. “After.”
As we reach the last introduction, Mrs Horton picks up again. “Poe Cottage has been a secret since the founding of the present school. Not everyone who was placed in Poe is gay or lesbian. Some are bisexual. Some have been changed by their manifestation, or changed themselves, into a different sex than the body they were born with - male, female, both or neither. Those students refer to themselves as changelings. Some are now straight in their new form. Others not.”
She pauses, then, “Poe has been a haven away from discrimination, but it has also created discrimination, by allowing those who held bigoted beliefs to think they ran the school. We know well, we have seen just this morning, that there are students who are gay, or changelings, who are in cottages other than Poe. And they must feel very isolated and alone there. As you can see you are not alone. Please come over, make friends.”
She takes another deep breath, looks around the room. “My name is Bella Horton. I am a trained educator and a wizard. I am bisexual, and that is why I was placed in charge of Poe. Thank you.”
Absolute silence. Then absolute applause. Everyone who clapped for Tansy and Saladin, and more besides. Howls and cheers. Stamping and hooting. It’s amazing.
Eventually it quiets, to be replaced by an excited buzz of conversation.
“So yeah”, I say to Tansy. “I was born in the wrong body. Three weeks ago, I was still stuck in a body I hated. Then my manifestation took me here, and changed me. I’m also intersex. And very lesbian.”
“I’m just, I can’t…” She shakes her head. “Every girl in Poe is into girls?”
“Not all, but most.”
Paige says, “Not just in Poe. Paige, Cyberkitty, changeling, intersex and lesbian. I’m in Hawthorne.”
Sara says, “I’m in Hawthorne now, but I was in Poe. Sara, Carmilla, Changeling and bi, but mostly lesbian. I changed when my demon self manifested.”
“Erin, Feral, changeling and lesbian.”
“Jamie, Heyoka. I was born a girl. Now I’m neither unless I’ve shifted because of a spirit.”
“Jet, what I am now is complicated, but I was born in the wrong body and I’m loving being a girl.”
“Gypsy, I’m the token straight cis one.”
Tansy just looks shaken. “Why so many changelings?”
I shrug. “Seems to be a thing. There’s a lot of us in Poe.”
“Will come out to you if they want to.”
“Oh my God.” She laughs, and it’s a little hysterical. “This morning I was alone. And now… there aren’t words.”
“This wasn’t the family secret I expected to come out first”, I say. “But it’s a good beginning.”
She looks at me. “There’s more?”
I nod. “Several things. Some bigger than this.”
She just shakes her head. Draws breath to say something, then pauses and frowns. I follow her gaze. Cody is headed over.
“Mind if I draw up a seat?”, he says - then proceeds to do so unbidden, opposite Tansy.
“What is it, Cody?” She sounds short tempered.
“I’m checking up on you, Tansy. You’ve been behaving in uncharacteristic ways. There’s talk that a certain somebody brainwashed you.” He looks at me.
“Idiot”, she says, drawing his attention back. “You’ve been listening to Hamper and Damper, and they’re whispering poison words in your ear that Sebastiano gave them. I’m not brainwashed. I’m influenced. And I consented.”
“And that’s why you told everyone you’re a lesbian?”
“You’re concerned about your manhood, then? Don’t be, it’s enjoyable.” Ouch.
He winces. “Tansy, you know I didn’t mean it like that. Look, your personality suddenly changed, I’m concerned.”
She sighs. “Everything I’m saying out in the open today, I’ve been feeling… ugh, it’s hard to tell because I was lying to myself for so long. But for ages. And when I say I don’t think I like boys, it’s because I’ve spent so long playing them for fools, or being played for a fool by them, that I just want a rest from that. You were nice, okay? Call it good memories.”
He looks around. “At any rate, you seem to have started a landslide.”
“Don’t get me started. I thought I was stepping out into the icy wilderness. Then half the damn school was already there. More lesbians than I thought, she says.” She shakes her head, and looks at me, amused.
Cody looks at me. “And you, what do you get out of this?”
“Friendship was what I was aiming for. Things moved faster than I anticipated, but it’s good.”
“Sure is good for you”, he nods.
“Cody, don’t be like that”, Tansy pleads.
“Then why didn’t you confide in me?”
“Because everything that I was around you was a lie, idiot! How could I show you the truth? Here I am with my bare-ass truth hanging out in public and you call me brainwashed. If I’d tried to broach the subject, you’d have thought I was manipulating you.”
He considers that. And I can see it’s genuine consideration. Then says, “If you’d been brainwashed, I’d expect to see a dulling of your edge. But I’m not seeing it. The contrary, in fact.” He looks thoughtful. “You angling for a place in the new Alphas?” I notice he doesn’t say ‘your old place back’. That evidently isn’t on the menu.
I see her wince, and about to react, then hold it back. She takes a breath. “I want to see what you make of them. If it’s anything like the hash I made of it, I won’t want to come within a nautical mile. But maybe you’ll make something good of them. Even then”, she pauses. “Even then, I want to get my bearings as who I am, now. And I want to feel I’ve earned in.”
He nods. “That’s a very good answer, that’s an answer that gives me hope. Very well. Looks like whatever it was miss spooky here did, it agrees with you.” He stands and smiles. “I’ll see you both around.”
Tansy takes a breath, blows it out. “Damn. That actually didn’t go badly.”
I nod. “He’s an interesting one. I don’t exactly trust him, but it feels like he means well. How’re you feeling? Able to handle more stuff?”
She nods. “Do it.”
“Okay, smallest one first, but it’ll let us do the others. Have you heard of links?”
“There’s rumours, a communication thing?”
“An untappable, unblockable communication network built out of a spell hidden down at the soul level. My own invention. It’s deliberately viral, anyone with a link can give it away to anyone else who wants one. I only ask that they consider who they give it to.”
“And I just have to want it?”
I feel the link connect, and say down it, “Yup, just like that.”
She grins. “That is so neat.”
Doesn’t take long to show her how to work groups. And then I get her in a group with those of the Pack who like to talk secrets.
“Okay so, here comes the biggie. It’s in two parts. First up. When I came here, that was when I manifested, and I teleported and burned out. Why would one teleport burn me out? Well, it wasn’t just long distance. It was across time and across universes. I came from a different version of this world, one where there aren’t any mutants, just baselines. How did I manifest, how did I get here? I’m not sure, but I think my GOO self did it. Reaching backwards in time from when she hatched. Yes, I’m aware that’s a bootstrap paradox. That’s probably how I also had the enormous luck to be dropped right here in the lap of Whateley. And how I got just the right combination of powers to become who I am.”
She looks surprised, but nods. “Okay, that’s weird, but I can handle that.”
“Next part is really serious secret information. Tell the wrong person and billions could die. The Head knows, people who need to hear it know, but it hasn’t gone further.”
“I’ll keep it secret.”
“Okay. This one’s hard to believe, except that you can verify it by seeing the effects in my actions. Before I came here, I knew people here, I knew a lot of the rules of this place, I knew about mutants. From across in another universe.”
“How in the hell…”
“It was fiction. I read it.” I use the link to send an image of the website, ugly-ass graphics and all. Something I couldn’t do last time I was discussing this. “I read the stories of people who were fiction protagonists. Mostly Kimbas and Pack. I read background info wiki pages. I got a few days worth of advance knowledge of the timeline, a lot of backward knowledge of the past. And a lot of over the shoulder views of people and what they were doing and thinking. Including Jinn’s time with you. So like I said, I was working at an advantage.”
She goes silent and thinks for a bit. “The sims, you warned them?”
“I was close to the end of my advance knowledge at that point, I knew something would happen, because I knew there was a story. I told them to expect shenanigans, that’s all. I’ve changed the timeline enough that the advance knowledge is mostly moot now, but there are literally hundreds of other stories, stretching over a decade into the future. You can imagine how ruinous that resource could be in the wrong hands. Plans, blackmail material, insights into people. And how easily it could be taken, in a world with no mutants.”
“Christ. Yes.” A pause. “The Kimbas, of all people, are protagonists?”
“And you as well, I think, although I didn’t reach those stories.”
“Fuck. This breaks my brain. Does that mean we have no free will?”
“Don’t think it does”, I say. “I feel like I have it. What does it mean that we’re reflected into another world’s fiction? Mostly means they get good stories. It gave me a boost when I came here, but that boost is mostly moot now. It’s just, it was important for you, personally, because I was using that to know you.”
“Shit, and you got Jinn’s perspective, which means you saw me at my worst.”
“She saw your potential, too.”
Part ninety six
content warning: dark emotions
The group of us, minus Erin, Hippolyta and Gypsy who have other stuff to do, head for Sara’s room. Sara can only stay until the end of lunch; I’m in the same class but of course I can stay behind. Still, that gives us a short while for further planning and talks. As we step into the Lovecraft room, I can see Tansy doesn’t really approve of the decor, although she’s trying not to show it. Obsidian and red silk is maybe not her style.
“So”, Paige says once we’re rotated, “I’ve got two things we can possibly use to deal with the Don and his crap. Tansy, you might know more about this?” and she plays back a snippet of Cody’s voice saying “we found a couple intact DVDs in one of the drawers that used to be locked. One of ’em had you gloating about what Hekate did to Cav and Sky. While you made Cav give you head! You sick bastard!”
Tansy looks down. “Uh, yeah. Cody probably still has those. I don’t have the keys any more, sorry.”
“Physical lock or electronic? Because between my powers and Jules’ tentacles, we can go through most.”
“Both, when I last saw it. But he’s not an idiot, he’ll have moved it. He’ll choose a location I don’t know.”
Paige nods. “Other one is from just this last Sunday, early AM.” She streams us some video from security cameras. Two dark-clad figures pad past. Then shortly after, Hamper and Damper do too. “They stay in a camera dark zone for a few minutes. The audio channels on the nearest cameras are all fuzzed over. Then this.” She shows another segment, there’s what sounds like thumping noises, then Hamper and Damper rush through the frame looking worse for wear, and there’s a shout of “Cowards!” from a girl I don’t recognise. Paige says, “They’ve hidden what happened between the two, but there’s video of nearby windows, with street lights reflected.”
I see. “Vibrations in the glass. You want me to try and extract the sound?”
“Stream it over then. As much resolution as you can pull.” The video comes over, and I begin analysis. “Got it, here we go.” I begin playback, and we hear a muffled voice saying “Late night stroll?” then another I recognise as Hamper saying “Late night stroll? Because we wouldn’t want to interrupt”, and the first voice picking up with “Unless of course you were thinking of doing things you shouldn’t in a certain data base with our areas. We wouldn’t take kindly”, and Hamper finishing the sentence, “to that kind of goings on.”
Paige pumps a fist in the air. “Woo! Got em! Nail ’em to the wall.”
Tansy, though, has gone white.
I say, “Hold up, Paige. Don’t put that anywhere outside your head for now. Tansy, what’s up?”
She flops down on a beanbag and covers her face, shivering. “Oh god. What did I do. What did I do. You’ll hate me now, and I’ll completely deserve it.”
Sara plops down beside her and gives her a hug. “Spit it out, hon. Better out than in.”
“Okay, okay, give me a moment.” Tansy’s visibly pulling herself together. I grab a beanbag beside her to minimise the looming-over factor. “Okay, so. I was only the boss of the Alphas in the end because I had the keys and nobody else did. They stole the physical master keys, Loophole and Murphy, and the last things I had left were the lock biometrics in the database. Those were only in the Schuster hall mainframe. So they went in to take them. That’s the two in black. And. And… Aargh. I sicced Hamper and Damper on them. Damn it. That clip. They were working for me. I did that. Kill me now, please. Because I told them to do as much and worse to those girls. I was trying not to look at it. But I can’t… I can’t hold it back. Oh god.”
“Fuck”, says Paige.
I wrap my arm around Tansy too, and Sara and I both hug her while she rocks and cries.
Sara says, “Jules, can you tell combat movement class I’ve had an emergency and I can’t make it?”
I nod. Me who was with the Kimbas at lunch was planning to go there, and I’ll go alone this time. “On it.”
Sara says, “Tansy, look at me.” And when she does. “You saw the end of that clip. What you intended those two to do, didn’t happen. They tried, but they failed. Now you’ve got two choices. Either you let me in your head and I spackle over that memory for now, because you can’t handle it. Or you keep it and decide you’re going to grit your teeth and deal with it like a grown girl. You did an awful thing. It’s probably not the only one.” Tansy nods shuddering agreement to that. Sara continues, “Not all of them are stuff you’re going to be able to apologise properly for, because you’d just end up in jail if you tried. The only thing you can do about them is choose to be different, from now on, with all your heart. And realise that you owe those people awfully big favours.”
Tansy nods, “I’m… give me a minute, okay?” She closes her eyes and just takes deep breaths. Then, “Alright. I’m going to keep the memory. It’s going to be my reminder, next time I let panic and selfish greed rule me, of how terribly fucking dangerous that is. And I owe Elaine and Joanne my life, if they need it. And I swear I’ll find a way, somehow, to apologise to them.” She looks up at Paige. “Remind me to never cross you people. Half a day and you’ve got the Don, Hamper, Damper, and me pretty much lined up for life in jail.”
“Only took that long because we had lessons”, Paige says, ruefully. “Damn it. You left their group so recently I can’t be sure you aren’t in the gunsights for anything I can dig up. We can’t use any of it.”
I say, “The DVDs, maybe, if we can locate them. The Don did that all on his own.”
“You going to go talk to Cody?”, Paige asks.
“Seems like the logical next move”, I agree. “I may be able to cut a deal with him. He seems the sort.”
Me with the Kimbas has been talking to them about the Poe reveal. None of us knew the upperclassmen had been making sneaky plans like that. We’d all been too busy to worry overmuch about the absence of whole-cottage planning meetings. In the end, though, the consensus is that it worked. They picked the big kids to be the figureheads, and yeah it implicates the rest of us, but we get to at least tell people that the details are none of their business.
Now it’s lesson time, and I have a split, one of me to Doc Bellows, the other to combat movement. I really hope nobody tries stuff on in the changing rooms this time, because I am so not in the mood. Maybe the Doc can help with that.
Down in the Poe lobby, upperclassmen are offering to act as escorts for kids who are having worry-fits about walking alone. It seems to be helping. Shrike comes over as I make my way through. “Hey Parallel. Nice radio show. I’ll be your escort for this evening.” She does a fancy bow, which makes me grin.
“It’s kind of you to offer, but I’m not too worried about the idiots, you can escort someone who needs it more”, I say.
“Nah, see, I didn’t think you’d exactly be worried about any of the apes on this campus, after knocking over a whole damn military base just yesterday. This is more so you don’t end up slicing ’em into two equal halves. Think of me as your aggro buddy.”
“Okay, that may actually be a point”, I admit. “I mean, it would be satisfying, but not worth the jail term.”
“Just the sentiment I was hoping to hear. Shall we go?”
I nod. “I’m headed to Laird. I’ll drop a copy at Doyle, but that’s barely a diversion.”
“Must be nice, to be able to copy yourself.”
“Has its upsides and downsides. But yeah, mostly upsides.”
Over in Sara’s room, Tansy’s shivering again, and she says, “I’m just thinking. I… did it with them, you know? Hamper and Damper. Let them use me, so I could get in their heads and point them like weapons. Not that it bothered them, they’re happy little vicious assholes. But my authority was already gone, they wouldn’t have taken orders. I don’t think I’ll ever feel clean again.”
Sara and I look at each other, and Sara says, “Jet, dear, could you run a bath, with bubbles?”, and then to Tansy. “Sometimes the best thing to do with bad memories is scribble over them with good ones. We’ve got until next period, hmm?” Tansy nods, mute. “That’s long enough to make some nice memories.”
Tansy says, looking down, “I was in the bath, with them.”
Sara nods. “Then that’s all the more reason to overwrite it. Up you get. Let us do everything. You just float along, okay?”
Tansy nods, and between us we guide her into the en suite, and methodically strip her down. Tentacles help there. She touches one of mine, wondering, and I gently curl it around her hand. “They’re pretty”, she says.
I smile, “thank you. I made them because I thought Sara’s were pretty. Seems a rare sentiment.”
She looks at Sara’s tentacle, that’s presently pulling her skirt down. Reaches out, and Sara makes it curl around her hand too. “They feel different. Sara, yours are heavier, they feel like polished latex. Jules, yours are light, they feel like, I dunno what. Like my finger just stops, and there’s a surface, but it’s still somehow air.”
“Aerogel, I think, that’s what they’re like”, I say. “It’s because they are mostly air, just trapped in sorcery.” I lift off her bra, and Sara takes down her panties. Then I sweep tentacles around her and lift her up, into a seated position, and down into the bath. “They’re pretty useful.”
Slipping under the mounded bubbles, Tansy says, quietly, “I shouldn’t be the only one naked. You said you’re intersex, Jules?”
I grin. “Both kinds of bits, both fully operational, although the balls are hidden away inside.” I let Sara have the fun of taking my clothes off, while I work on hers.
Paige grins, and starts to skin down too. “Both parts here too. Although I give people shocks, sorry. Jules spent a whole morning learning to insulate her nerves. Oh, and I’m fertile, which she can turn off.”
“Very nice parts”, Jet says, shifting away her clothes. “They call Paige mister big. Happily, I’m an electrical insulator.”
“Sara has us all beat for size, with her tentacles”, I tease.
Tansy lies back in the bubbles and giggles. “Damn. They said this place was a constant orgy, they weren’t kidding. Also”, she looks at me, “I think I may like some boy parts. Girl parts. Whatever one of those is, I approve of it.”
I step into the bath too. “Roll over, up against the side, and I’ll show you what it feels like from the inside. If you want?”
“I do want. Please.” Sara’s tentacles on her nipples make her gasp, as I kneel down and aim and slip inside lovely warmth. Jet catches my eye with a bent-over grin, as Paige slips inside her.
Fun for all the family, heh.
Part ninety seven
16th January, 2007, Doyle, fourth period
Heading in to Doyle’s mental health annex, it’s unexpectedly busy. Several kids I recognise from Poe, and a few others.
“Jules, come in, pardon the commotion”, Doc Bellows beckons me in. “We were warned about the Poe reveal, thank goodness, so we had time to lay on extra staff, but it’s still a bit chaotic.”
“Do you need me to drop my appointment and make room?”, I ask. “I did have one yesterday.”
“You had one yesterday because you needed it.” He closes the door after me and begins the ritual of pouring coffee. “Did you know, every patient of mine at some point says something along the lines of, you shouldn’t be sparing time for me, there’s other people who have it worse?” He shakes his head. “Somewhere out there in the world is the person who has it worst of all. You are not that person. But you still have trauma as recent as yesterday evening. We have enough staff, we are not having to triage our patients. So no, I don’t need you to drop today’s appointment.”
He holds out the cup of coffee, and I take it with a smile. “Thanks.” For more than just the coffee.
“So”, he says, taking a seat, “Shall we begin with yesterday’s business? What stands out to you as emotionally important?”
I think back to the raid and it’s aftermath. “Well, at the time, catching the big bullet was more intense. But in retrospect I keep finding myself thinking more about invading the base. Not so much what I did, that was almost peaceful if you don’t count the ack-ack guns shooting at me. What I could have done. I’m pretty sure I could have invaded that base single handed. And not lost, although it would have been an enormous mess.”
“So, a mix of feeling frightened at your own potential, and horrified by what you’re imagining?”
I nod. “It doesn’t seem rational. I’m not about to slaughter a base of soldiers, or anybody else for that matter. But my imagination goes dark places. Still, I’m grateful to the Head for keeping me out of the worst of it.”
“And she’s remorseful for having to drag you into it as much as she did. Tell me, how did it feel, getting shot at?”
I think back. “Horrifying, and terrifying. Even though I could stop the bullets, and did, there were people, or machines programmed by people, trying to kill me, rip me apart with pieces of high speed metal, and nobody on their side would rush to save me while I… well, while bad things happened.” I pause thinking. “But also exhilarating, we were carrying out a plan, and it was going well.”
“These are the kinds of thoughts and emotions normally faced by soldiers on a battlefield.” He leans forward in his chair. “Not, normally, by school children. Not even at Whateley. What your imagination is doing is responding to that memory of fear, turning it around, making you into the one going around trying to kill people. To that frightened part of your mind, that’s a power fantasy, something to cling to. While to another, more empathetic part, it’s a horror show starring yourself as the monster. This is also a common response among soldiers.”
“Let me guess, the ones whose empathy never worked too well in the first place, they become the monster?”
“Sometimes”, he nods. “Yours, I note, is in good working order. The downside is, that you end up re-traumatising yourself after the fact.”
“So what do we do about it?”
“Well, to begin with, we get you off the battlefield.”
Oh dear. “Um. When we’ve had our conversations, up until now there’s always been something closer to home to talk about. So it’s not like I’ve been intentionally hiding it, but there’s a problem with that.”
He nods, and looks thoughtful. “Intentionally hiding, no, but you are reluctant to talk about it?”
“It’ll seem far fetched. And like I’m bragging, but I’m really, really not.”
He chuckles. “Don’t worry, I’m used to you. I’ve already got that out of my system. Far fetched, so, it’s a GOO thing?”
“It’s a GOO war. One Sara was holding down almost solo before I showed up to help. One I can’t really opt out of. Who and what I am makes me a very strategic target.”
“Ah. I see.”
With the copy dropped off at Doyle, Shrike and I continue our walk towards Laird. And judging by the knot of kids mobbing the door to Laird and handing out flyers, it looks like whoever assigned her to tag along had the right idea.
“Committee to restore normality to Whateley! We don’t believe we should have hundreds of deviants and freaks in our midst suddenly imposed upon us! Add your name to our petition! Take a flyer!”
Well, can’t fault them for sloth, at least. I can see my two nemeses are leading the group, Sweetheart and Bombshell, so called. Evidently ‘bitchy’ and ‘basher’ were taken. Sweetheart catches sight of me. “Oh hey, it’s the worst freak of all. Turns out you ain’t even human, miss girl-boy-thing, and you’ve been fucking with all our heads. We don’t want your goddamn ‘influence’ in our school! You can turn around and leave!”
Shrike moves protectively in front of me. “Ain’t this kind of an unusual place to start an H-one chapter, kiddies?”
“We’re not against mutants, just things like you, fake girl. Poe should be closed down and all of you expelled.”
“But you’ll find all your new friends want you dead too, because there’s no such thing as a single issue bigot. Now why don’t you step out of the way, before I stop protecting you.”
“You’re protecting us, from what? Miss thing there?”
“You dumb fucks asked yourself where the Necromancer is since last weekend? Or Lycanthros and Nightgaunt?”
“That’s just stories.” She sounds a little unsure, but defiant.
An unexpected voice joins in, Mr Anderson, our class teacher. “The stories are true. Get inside before I fail you, which I absolutely will do if you demonstrate any further desire to taunt someone who is completely out of your league. In! Now!”
I smile bye to Shrike and head in with the rest of them, pausing to pass Sara’s message to Mr Anderson as I walk past him; he nods. We’re in the classroom, at least to begin with, so further direct confrontation is avoided. Instead I get death glares from a few folks, and sympathetic looks from others.
Mr Anderson takes a seat, waits for the last of us to straggle in and close the door, and then says, “I had plans for today. Those plans have changed, due to what I just saw. Today we will be examining the unequal fight. By which I mean a circumstance where in actual direct confrontation, you would just lose. You are outnumbered, outgunned, out-powered, or, sometimes, all of the above. We will look at tactics such as escape, avoidance, keeping your head down, and tactical surrender. And we will look at how to identify and avoid the problem before it becomes a confrontation. Including how to control your temper.”
The death glares intensify.
In Sara’s en-suite, I lift a very relaxed looking Tansy out of the bathwater, and Sara wraps her in a towel. “Whee, if you could bottle that, it would sell. Maybe you should open a spa?” She giggles. “Whatever it was I was thinking about, the thoughts just fell out of my head. Oh yeah, I was thinking about me being awful to Elaine and Joanne. Bad me. Need to figure how to be nice to them.” She catches a lock of her hair that has fallen in front of her face. “When did this go back to yellow? I liked the green.”
“While ago”, I say. “It was yellow when we went studying.”
“Pooh. Have to see if I can get them to change it back. Green for new shoots and new beginnings.”
“I could change it if you want”, I offer. “We should wait until you’re thinking a bit more straight though.”
She nods. “Fair ’nuff, but I don’t think I’ll change my mind. Could you make it grow in green from the roots?”
Good question, could I? “I suppose I could, it’s just altering the cells.”
“Just altering them, she says”, she giggles. “You’re fun to know. In all senses of the word. Old me was a silly bitch to miss out on that much fun.”
I remember back to a certain negotiation. “Didn’t entirely miss out.”
She snickers. “Fair point, I completely threw my orgasm at you, and you drank it down. Mm, good memories. And Cody’s dick isn’t bad, even if I was giving him stick about it. But I like yours better, it touches all the lovely places. Also I think I’ve become a fan of tentacles.”
“Come on, let’s get you dressed for class.” I grin. “Lots more opportunities for fun with those later.”
Doc Bellows has taken my description of the situation I’m caught in with impressive calm, I think. He picks up his by now tepid coffee, takes a sip somewhat by rote, winces and puts it back down. “I see. I hope you don’t mind that I will check with the Head about this, since you say she’ll confirm it?”
“No, makes sense not to just take me at my word. It’s a lot to swallow. But you can see, at least, how I’m not expecting a true respite from this until it’s over? Upside though, it feels like there’s a crescendo building. So things may soon be resolved, for better or worse.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Just how long I’ve been here. It takes time to adjust or hatch nefarious plans, and re-work them on the fly to accommodate the changes I keep making to my capabilities. And to the pieces on the board. Whatever plans they had for Darrow, those need redrafting, you know?”
“You’re trying to keep them off balance?”
“Well, that and grind levels in a hurry. Because I genuinely am expecting the boss monster to show up.”
Combat movement class has been way more theoretical than last time, I think he’s doing that to punish the idiots, but he did get me to demonstrate my lightsabers out in front, and walk the class through Sunday’s fight. I feel he’s giving me way too much credit for taking down supposed A-list villains. It’s not as if they got a chance to use their powers. But maybe that’s a thing in itself. And it reduced the visible snark from the junior league Klan, which I’m grateful for. Sara arrived at the start of fifth period, and was allowed to take her seat with no hassle. Always a nice thing to have a teacher who takes students’ problems seriously. That said, I do worry about this class. It’s useful, but I don’t want to spend every other weekday being tested on my forbearance by idiots. Although, maybe as a sort of meditative practise in bullshit tolerance?
Three hours of kinda dry theory takes me through to the end of sixth period, and yay, my time is my own, mostly. I still have to do maintenance, but that’s kind of relaxing.
Well, except maybe I rejoiced too soon, because someone’s waiting for me outside Laird as class breaks up. Becca, with a serene smile. “Good evening. Follow me, please.” Well, this promises to be interesting.
Part ninety eight
As other me heads towards Poe, a clean pair of sweats, and a very dirty job, I walk with Becca Stone towards her office on campus. “Have you heard of the Monkey King?”, she asks.
“Yeah, he or sometimes she was involved in that panty raid business”, I grin. “Sounds fun. Also helping train Chou, I think?”
“Mhm, correct. She’s come to visit and evidently is curious about you. I thought it was a good opportunity to combine meeting her with a get to know you session.”
There’s a feeling I get off Becca, that she’s being cautious, that her level of relaxation goes down around me. It’s subtle, but it’s there. And having my first get to know you session with perhaps the greatest warrior on Earth present… well, it fits the pattern. While also being innocuous and probably entirely true.
Probably better brought out in the open, than hanging over us. “I feel that you, perhaps the whole group of immortals, are unsure whether to trust me?”
She looks at me, and chuckles. “Chou tells me stories, of course, and she did mention your tendency to be, hmm, direct. Yes, you concern us. You’re chaotic, extremely powerful already, and rapidly growing. You’ve already altered the balance, and seem inclined to continue. And yet the Tao accepts you. The Handmaid has not moved to stop you.”
I consider that. “And the one best placed to understand a whirl of chaos, is a whirl of chaos?”
She nods. “Monkey goes where she wills, but her interest is helpful.” And probably easy to bait, I find myself thinking.
The office turns out to be a room in back of Laird that has the look of a teacher’s private room, except it has the martial arts type wooden flooring, and is presently very bare of furnishings, other than a small shrine against the wall. Seated cross legged in the middle of the floor, with a basket of peaches and munching one, is a strawberry blonde who looks around my age or a little younger, in a Whateley uniform with her tail poking out behind, grinning. She jumps up, and leaning on a staff that was a chopstick a moment ago, looks at me. “So, you’re the famous Jules.”
“Famous huh”, I grin myself. “Looks like the pot is calling the kettle black, Sun Wu Kong.”
“Ha! Well, maybe a little. And call me Sun”
Becca says, “I’ll make tea”, sounding amused, and steps into a side room, leaving the two of us alone.
“That’s your surname, isn’t it?”
“It’s shorter, and when you’re immortal you learn the value of wasted time. Also, it’s a pun that means monkey, and monkey is who I am. Besides, you only kept your first name. So we make a pair. Here, take a seat, have a peach.”
I smile and sit. “Your generosity shames me, as I didn’t bring any presents. And I only kept my chosen name. I don’t have any of my birth names, here.” I look at the peaches, and choose one that calls to me.
“Wise to keep some secrets”, she says. And leans forward, whispering, “You know, I think Becca doesn’t trust you.”
Of course a whisper like that is going to carry to the ears of a near-immortal in the next room, but I whisper back for the sake of the game, “We already talked about it, she thinks I’m a bit chaotic.” And lean back so I can take a bite of peach.
Mmm, it’s delicious. Also registering as an extremely powerful spell after I took a bite and swallowed it. Not sure how that could have been hidden from me until now, but I decide not to block or fight the spell, but instead trust Monkey and watch its effects settling through me. The channels I widened just last night are rushing full of golden energy, like a flash flood that keeps growing, and the part of me that’s monitoring them has to adjust them wider and wider again to hold it. Everything in the room is lit up and flowing with the same power. The peaches glow like little suns. Monkey herself is a like a banked fire, and Becca as she comes in is smouldering red. She winces, and sets the tea tray down on the ground without splattering, and comes over. “Sun Wu Kong, you did not!”
“I did”, she grins. “And observe the effects, aren’t they interesting! She just assimilated the force, as casually as you please.”
“Thank you”, I manage to say despite feeling really floaty. “It’s delicious.” I don’t mention that a bit of warning might be nice. She didn’t want to warn me or she would have. “I could do with advice on how to pack this power away, because right now I feel like I’m lit up like a lightbulb.”
“Polite, too.” Sun Wu Kong smiles, and gestures to her belly. “Spin it in your lower dan tien. Rising in front, falling behind. And compress it down.”
Okay, I can do that. It’s chi, so it should follow intention. I intend it spinning, and it does. Good. And then I flow it together, and after a moment it feels like it condenses out into a tiny droplet of liquid that feels as if it’s giving off a golden glow, and the room fades back to normal sight. Becca looks relieved, and Monkey looks proud.
Sun says, “See, in seconds, she learns it. Well done, Jules, you’ve taken the first step on the path to being our kind of immortal. I’m aware you were already your own kind.”
I shake my head. “As a great old one, I’m hard to damage, but I’d by no means call myself immortal. And having power in this way”, I pat my dan tien where the power is glowing, “doesn’t mean I know how to use it.”
“Well, I did say the first step”, she grins.
A thought occurs. “Oh! Reminds me. I could do with your advice, probably both of you. I have another body that’s pregnant. Is it safe to copy this across? The wide channels, I mean, and running this kind of power.”
They look at each other. “Yes and no is the answer”, Monkey says, and Becca nods, “A child growing in the presence of that much power will not be born as an ordinary human.”
“She was never going to be anyway”, I point out. “She’s my child with myself. Double GOO bloodline.”
That doesn’t seem to faze either of them. Becca says “Then probably unharmed, but she may become a sage while pre-born.”
Other me, over in Gothmog’s place, consults with Junior’s growing self awareness. And gets back unconditional trust.
Alright. I’ll go for it. Changes, including the new wider-still channels, copied to all bodies, including pregnant me. And I find I can flow the power around to them all, too. I take a look at the peach, should I? And grin. “Here goes nothing”, and take a second bite. Flash! Channels fill, it’s distributed around to the totality of me and all of me compress it down.
It only takes a few more bites to finish the peach. It was indeed delicious. And all of me have a power pool glowing in our dan tiens, now. Junior is bathing in hers like it’s warm sunlight. I find I can link our power pools into a sort of shared flowing higher dimensional ring. That should be stable no matter how many bodies I add or remove.
Becca looks slightly reproachfully at Sun Wu Kong, but sighs and goes to pick up the abandoned tea tray. “Well, I brought you a monster and you’ve made her ten times a monster, meantime, some tea?”
“Thank you”, says Monkey, unabashed.
I accept some tea, too. It’s good. I can sort of see structure to it, at that level where my awareness was just earlier. Is that developing into another sense? But it’s hard to interpret yet. “She’s made me into a student”, I counter. “I’m suddenly plugged into a current I don’t know how to use or control, and I’m not stupid enough to just try and tap off that power by sticking a fork in the socket. I pretty much have to come and study it, now.”
Becca considers that. “Okay, I can see that angle. And you’re right not to just try tapping the power. I don’t think you could burn out your channels given how casually I just saw you widen them, but you could do serious accidental damage to other people and your surroundings.”
“I’ll be careful”, I promise. “Uh, will it go off accidentally when I’m training with Dyffud?”
“I’ll speak with him, but it shouldn’t”, Becca smiles. “Still, I won’t give any guarantees. Move your chi carefully, don’t take risks or throw it around.”
“I can live with that”, I agree.
“So. We were talking about how you don’t trust her” - Monkey, picking up the conversation that started before the peach, like nothing had happened.
Becca sighs and sips her tea. “It’d be more accurate to say I’m confused. If you’d asked me a month ago, what would happen if some human decided to to transform into a new great old one, and began accumulating powers rapidly, I’d say that Chou would be sent to kill them immediately. If you asked me, what if they decided to change the rules of life itself, I’d say the Tao would never accept it. It would be an enormous thumb on the balance.”
“Chou suggested I was taking a thumb off the balance”, I say. “Makes sense to me, there’s another one of us out there pushing for bigotry and dissolution. I didn’t just change things on a whim, I saw a lack that needed repair.”
“And now today, there’s been noise among the staff about how you influenced a student. They’re all arguing the difference between you interfering with her mind, her volunteering for it, and you having made a clear improvement in her personality. And on the other hand, those who think you’re a monster who lobotomised her. But what I see in that, is someone with a lot of power and very little restraint, who goes around changing things as she wills. And yet, somehow, it seems, gets it right?”
I look over at Monkey. “Do you get this too?”
Which makes her break out in giggling, and nod, “They literally set the Buddha on me.”
“You’re different”, Becca insists.
“You’re used to me”, Sun Wu Kong counters, grabbing another peach. “Neither Jules nor I is truly chaotic, but we act when we see the need for action, and we don’t bother to get a dozen permissions for it when that would spoil the simplicity.”
“Or when they might say ‘no’ and I’d have to do it anyway”, I agree. “Changing Tansy got her out of a stuck rut she was begging to be freed from. There’s no way I could know I had the ability, and be stopped by someone’s excess of caution while she suffered. Even if I could probably have talked them around.”
That gets an understanding nod from the monkey, and a sigh from Becca.
“Alright. Well, I’ll be teaching you chi gung to help control what a certain monkey decided to give you. And we’ll see if some calm and a centered mind make you more, or less of a whirlwind of chaos.”
I grin. “Sounds fun. Lead on.”
Part ninety nine
Maintenance was pretty uneventful, we were fitting more pipes, except that Morrie warned Jade and me that they had decided to bring the cave forward to Saturday. So that’s going to be interesting. I’ll need to talk to Sara and see if she has advice. Jade didn’t look happy about having to go back down there, but I’m going to see if I can’t sort out that particular localised mess in a way that’s more permanent than periodic firebombing. Call it practise.
Crystal Hall has a noisy energy to it tonight. It’s not quite the Sharks and the Jets, but there’s a tension between Poesies and the less accepting types. People moving around in groups, clinging to bricks, you know. From the grim looks over at the capes’ table, I think that group may tear itself apart shortly. For better or worse, the secret’s out now, and everything is readjusting around it.
On the way to food, I get an attempted jostle from some genius who thinks the MacGyver hairstyle combines well with a biker jacket he found in a dustbin. Of course I bend said jostle so that he ends up stumbling. “Watch it, Poesy”, he attempts to growl. He is not as scary as military ack-ack guns. His buddy grabs his shoulder and points to my armband, which makes the mulleted one go “So what?” A brief conversation ensues, which I ignore, picking out edibles. Then his buddy comes over, “He’s sorry and he didn’t mean anything by it. I’ve heard rumours about you, I’m not gonna let him start anything.”
“Nice to know”, I say. “I’m pretty sure he’s not really sorry, but it’s good he has friends with more sense. Thanks for defusing that.”
“Uh yeah, no problem.” The guy looks confused, but that isn’t my business. This time I do my split post-picking-foods, out of curiosity, and find I copied the trays too. Nice to know I can, although the downside is a lack of variety.
Heading to my two tables, I touch in on the Poe table and find they’re talking about the new group, the so called committee to restore normality. Toni on the pound ’em side, Ayla arguing for restraint and leaving it to the authorities. Toni turns to me and says “So what do you think… Jules…” and just kind of winds down and gapes like I’ve grown a second head. Which makes the others look at me. Then she kind of reboots, blinks, and says, “Mind explaining how in the hell you suddenly have enough condensed chi in your dan tien to throw the entire school into orbit?”
Uh, truth, I guess, “Monkey gave me a peach.”
Chou winces. “Oh she did not. That idiot. You could have died!”
“If she offers, say no”, I agree. “I had to widen my channels again.”
“Wait, a peach?” Ayla hasn’t been keeping up.
Chou explains, “One of the peaches of immortality. They’re said to give you three thousand years of longevity just by eating one. Which it looks like they do by ramming enough chi into your channels that anyone else at this table, myself included, would catch fire on the spot. You’d need decades of cultivation just to be able to hold the strain. And then absorbing and condensing it would be another battle.”
“Out of curiosity, how long did that take you?” Toni looks like she’s tasting something bitter.
“Um well, I asked monkey what to do with it, and she said spin it in my dan tien and then pull it inward, and I did, and it condensed. Which is good as I’m no longer seeing the room in weird-ass glows, even if there is a kind of flowing layer to it now that there wasn’t before. Um, just shy of a minute from starting.”
Toni just shakes her head. “How wide even are your channels now?”
“I don’t know how to measure. More than they were.”
“Rhetorical question. I’d bet they’re echoing caverns compared to anything humans have. Shit, you are seriously going to have to learn to use that chi properly, or one lazy hadouken could blow Crystal Hall clear over to Boston. Please, please do not try to use it without knowing how.”
“Yeah, I already figured that one”, I agree.
Over at the Pack table, I sit and lean over onto Sara’s shoulder, and she ruffles my hair, looking amused at the reactions Toni and Chou are giving me over there. “Ate something big, mm?”
“A whole peach.”
“A whole one? My my, greedy.” The gentle tease in her voice brings out my love and I nuzzle against her. Then my attention goes wider and I see Tansy looking thoughtful.
I say, “Hey Tansy, how’d it all go?”
“You were right about the classes”, she says. “Once I realised I’d been learning despite myself, I stopped panicking and things went alright, although I still think I’ll have to study. And I explained myself to the teachers I’d already panicked around. They will be giving me extra work, but I’m no longer kicked out of class. But I was mostly thinking about afterward, while you were off with Jade.” She sighs. “I had a chat with Ayla. I… told him how I’d transferred the bullying that his sisters did to me, onto him. I apologised. He didn’t tell me to go to hell. I’m not sure if I feel lighter or heavier. And there’s so much more of that ahead of me.”
I nod understanding. “For better or worse, it’s finite. Look at it like that. Each bit chips away at the heap.”
“Remind me to tell you the story of the bird wearing down the mountain some time”, Tansy says sounding tired but amused. “Damn, I really should do Joanne and Elaine next and I have no idea how to even approach that. Oh yeah hi, sorry, I committed a crime against you that could put me in jail or get me expelled, be nice and don’t kill me? If I get out of this whole thing without a rap sheet it will be a miracle.”
Paige says, “Maybe some stuff, you’re going to have to hold back the apology. Or be non specific.”
Tansy sighs. “I can’t see them accepting non-specific apologies, but I can’t see them accepting specific ones either. It may have to just keep hanging over me. Ugh, I don’t like that thought.”
I pull her into a hug. “Non-urgent problems, anyhow. It’s safe to park that one. Right now, I think number one on the list is probably this business with influencing you getting escalated.”
“I can’t think of what else to do, though”, she agrees. “We already told Carstaires that I consented.”
“I can think of something not to do”, I say. “I’ve been thinking about how the first thing we, mostly I, rushed to do was aim everyone to attack the Don and his scurvy crew. And how that was a bad idea.”
“They’re rapists, slavers and scum”, Paige says. “We know it, even if we can’t use it, and I’d have no regrets burning the lot of them. But I see your point strategically. Attack us for a rules violation, get hit like you pissed off the mob, is maybe not a great look.”
I can’t help but wince at the description. “Yeah. So they’re on our shit list, but mostly for being shits. We should honestly take them off it for reporting us. Even if it was a transparent backstab against Tansy for leaving their little gang. It was also kinda the right thing to do, and punishing assholes when they do ethical things is a poor look.”
Tansy laughs. “Seriously. Okay, that’s a fair point. I’m just… not used to this level of rethinking. Old me would have lashed out without a thought. That which attacks you, take it out with a full broadside. I genuinely do understand that feeling, to the extent I wasn’t the least surprised you went there, but perhaps I should have been?”
“I have problems with being impulsively defensive”, I admit. “I have been known to smash first and say ‘oops’ later. If you catch me doing that, do please nudge me.”
Sara smirks and says, “Noted dear, and I will.” Which gets nods from the others too.
Over at the Kimba table, Chou says, “So, there’s something I wanted to raise with all of you. And it’s only because of the links that I even can do this, because I’ve got nothing but a raw feeling to go on, but now I can actually send you the feeling rather than waving my hands trying to describe it. There’s this icky, slimy magical thing I’ve been sensing and I’m just wondering if anyone else senses it? I should warn you, this isn’t nice. But have any of the rest of you felt it?”
The feeling that follows is slimy, but also a recognisable part of my ‘normal’. I’m seeing shaken heads around the table. Even Nikki. So I speak up. “Is that not normal, then? I thought the campus always had that?”
Chou facepalms, “Oh of course, you got here after Christmas, didn’t you? It wasn’t here when we left, but it was when we came back. I gradually came to notice it after I got back, but it’s always been there for you.”
“Always since I started learning sorcery. I thought it was just a feature of the place. Damn, but it’s us-flavored, isn’t it? Mythos magic.”
“No wonder I can’t detect it, then”, Nikki agrees. “Mythos magic is stealthy as hell. Which probably means Hekate.”
“We need to alert Circe right away”, I say.
Which gets a frown from Chou, but then a sigh. “Can you localise it?”
I shake my head. “I think it’s hiding its direction.”
“Molly has a friend who might be able to help”, Chou says.
“Then we tell Circe about her too”, I say nodding. “This feels like it would be a bad thing to just wander up to and poke with a stick.”
Nikki nods, “Hekate’s merciless. She might have built in any number of awful traps.”
“And it could be evidence”, I nod. “Any objections to contacting her immediately? She’s on links.”
Shaken heads around the table. “Group us up and let’s do it”, Chou agrees.
So we do. Circe is at first mildly grumpy to be interrupted in her down-time, but then intrigued and worried as soon as we point out the problem. “Of course. We will immediately investigate it.”
“I suggest when we go looking, Chou’s seeker, but also myself and Sara should be on the team, and Chou for her handmaid of the Tao powers.”
“Bring mythos to fight mythos, hmm? And also a demon slayer. Yes, I can see that, although honestly I don’t intend to put any of you in the line of fire. But having you along in case it becomes necessary is good thinking. Alright, I suspect we’ll act on that immediately tomorrow morning. I may have to pull a few of you out of your classes.”
“I’ll loop Sara in on the idea in a moment”, I agree. “I’m obviously okay with doubling up.”
“I can skip team tactics if it’s important”, Chou agrees.
“Alright. Expect an email later this evening with the morning’s plan. And thank you for bringing it to me.”
“Not a problem”, I say, although I see Chou is frowning, but she doesn’t say anything.
Part one hundred
Is it strange to get email while dreaming? Because now that I have an internal internet connection, being actually asleep doesn’t stop me from using a background thread to poll my account. My academic adviser wants to see me tomorrow about new classes they want to add me to, the psychic ethics one, and a first aid course they’re going to run, as well as a possible entry in an Exemplar Grace class. One from the Head, she wants to see me and Tansy before breakfast. Then one from Circe laying out her plans for the expedition. All of which is cool but will wait until tomorrow.
I actually do have plans for stuff to get done, tonight, while I’m dreaming. I want to construct that mental reprieve / base of operations inner world I’ve been putting off. Bellows was right that’s a good idea to have. And I need to play with options to find what feels right to me.
Luckily I can do many of those concurrently, so I try a few. The one I settle on is a wilderness Earth-like world. Actually, not exactly wilderness, more like the way the world was when indigenous people did continent-scale horticulture. Lots of edible stuff. No actual people, because creating dream-people seems disrespectful. But if some want to move in, I won’t complain.
Hmm. I want to talk to Donna, partly just to catch up and because she’s lovely, but I want to check if they have any more info on the global effects. And if Tansy is okay with it, introduce her to ARC. Being fully influenced makes her a useful reference point. She probably could pick up a load of cash from it too, not that she needs it. But maybe the networking will be of interest?
17th January, 2007, Poe, morning
I’m up a bit early because I had an idea while I was asleep that I wanted to try for real. I’ve been switching outfits by deleting the old one and putting the new one on with tentacles, which is nice and fast, but not really fast enough to do publicly, there’s an unavoidable amount of flashing. Not that I mind being looked at, but it’s obtrusive. But what if I could just create the clothes? After all, it’s what I do when I copy myself. Then I wouldn’t even need to break step.
Turns out to be a little more complicated than it sounds. Making the clothes is easy, but the nuisance turns out to be, oddly enough, shoes. None of them are at exactly the same height, and I don’t want to shave bits off my heel when I go from low to high. It’s alright if I’m running, there’s a point in that gait where both feet are airborne and I can make the shift. But walking keeps at least one foot in contact with the ground. In the end, I figure a way to do it that works, but is a little less smooth than I had planned - just bounce. A little upward bounce on my toes interrupts the gait of walking slightly but does the job.
Erin’s peering down at me from her high bunk. “Figuring how to get dressed in a hurry?”, she asks sleepily.
“Figuring how to duck out of needing changing rooms”, I admit. “Sometimes they get unfriendly.”
“Trouble with that is you’ll end up in your uniform after, but all sweaty-sticky.”
Oops. “Good point. Rats. How… oh of course.” I just need to delete the old body and make a fresh one in the desired outfit, while keeping the position and momentum for continuing my stride. Once I have the idea, doing it is pretty simple.
“Rats where?… oho, you made a new self, your smell changes, did you know that? You smell fresh out of the box, not of bedsheets.”
“Huh, I hadn’t thought of that, that might be a vulnerability, thanks.” I grin. “Technically I’m sparkling clean but I think I’ll take a shower anyway, water is nice.”
“And the company is… visually enjoyable”, she agrees. “Hey, I’m with Sara, doesn’t mean I’m dead.”
I snicker in agreement. Then quick-change into my gown. “Might miss the show today, gotta go early, Head wants to see me about the Tansy thing.”
“Good luck”, she says, before settling back to get a bit more rest.
As I predicted, the showers are empty, so I just vanish the gown and dive in, enjoying the warm water to help me feel fully awake. And well, playing with my bits a little for enjoyment’s sake, too.
“Hey Jules, you awake?” An unexpected Tansy over the link. I send her some sensations as a way to say yes teasingly, which makes her laugh and call me an ass. “Very awake, I see. I wanted to talk about the thing with the Head.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Well, this isn’t about what we’re going to say about you influencing me, I think we covered that. It’s about the Hamper and Damper thing.”
“I thought we couldn’t use that?”
“I may have overreacted at the time, I was manic as hell. I know I did something bad, but the way Joanne has been hate-pranking me… I just want to hear the clip in full.”
“I need to get the file from Paige.”
Poking Paige gently over the link gets a sleepy “Mm, yes, what is it?” and I explain the situation. “Sure, I kept a copy just in case”, and she starts streaming it over.
A few minutes later, we’re all three appalled.
Tansy speaks first. “I… I knew they were rapists, or rather, I’d heard, they bragged, but… they would have done it right there. And they genuinely thought they killed Elaine. Damn. I just told them to rough them up, make sure security caught them stealing the codes. No wonder Joanne hates me. We… have to tell the Head. Even if it goes bad for me.”
I send her the feeling of a hug. “I’ll be there for you no matter what.”
“Gonna be a bit of trouble for me for hacking security, but I’ll take it”, Paige agrees.
“What about the other clip?” Tansy says. “If we’re doing one, I want us to do both.”
Paige says, “You realise that one implicates you pretty badly. In knowing after the fact, if not in being involved.”
“I do… I just feel she’ll find out later. And ask me if I knew… if I can make a clean breast of it as soon as possible, it’s more likely she’ll be merciful.”
I can’t argue with that, but I send her a big hug.
No more time to dally in the shower. Teleport dry, quick-change to a fresh uniform and I’m ready to go. I leave a copy to do Tai Chi, and head off towards Schuster.
The Head’s office is open, and she’s standing by the door. Not doing the full doom and terror rigmarole, then? “Jules, Miss Walcutt, come in.”
We do, and she closes the door. “Take a seat please. I’ve read Dr Carstaires’ report. Do you both assert the matter was consensual?”
I nod, “Yes ma’am.” Tansy does the same.
“And would you be willing to be scanned as to the truth of that by professor Louis Geintz?”
I remember that’s Fubar’s real name. “Yes ma’am.” A wince and then Tansy follows suit.
And a familiar boy is just suddenly there. “They’re telling the truth. And the reason they look more worried than they should, is because they have something else to tell you.”
“Does it relate directly to this matter?”
“Setting that aside for now, then. Jules, Dr Carstaires has insisted on a full hearing, which will happen tomorrow. I’m not sure why, perhaps he feels you need a lesson in seriousness, but I think this evidence will exonerate you at that hearing. However, please obtain clearance from me personally before doing it again for anyone else. Yes, I know it’s only an acceleration of a process that is happening to all of us, but it is a big change with serious impacts. And the same goes for anything else of comparable magnitude. I don’t want you cutting the school out of the loop again, just because nobody thought to make a rule that covers it, am I understood?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that.”
“Good. And you Tansy, I am honestly very gratified by the changes I’ve seen. But I have to ask, why did it have so much impact?”
“I was lying to myself, ma’am, lying to everyone else, living inside a fake life that wasn’t mine. It was chafing, I’d been thrown out of the Alphas but I didn’t know how to break loose from the pattern. I knew I was going to end up in the Don’s faction scrabbling to get back something I never really had, let alone enjoyed. Something cracked, Jules saw it and offered a way out, and now, well, it just feels so much better being true to myself that I said, let the chips fall where they may. And I kind of saw myself clearly, that I had been a horrendous bitch, pardon me ma’am”
“Pardoned, I’d agree with that characterisation.”
“And I decided to stop. That’s about it, really. When I started feeling like I was my honest self, then I started caring about my work, of which you’ve probably heard.”
“I have, from several bemused but positive teachers. Your attitude has evidently gone from dismissive to studious.”
“I had been pretending it was all beneath me. That was part of the queen bitch look. But I realised that underneath it I just genuinely liked to learn things.”
The Head nods. “I consider that a beneficial change. Please do continue doing that. Alright, for myself, I consider this matter over. Unfortunately, I can’t halt the hearing, so you will both need to be prepared to go back over it. You can have representation there if you choose.”
Tansy says, “We’ll look into that, ma’am.” I’m guessing with her resources she can swing a big-shot lawyer.
“Alright. On to this next matter.”
Hoo boy. I pick this one up. “Ma’am, when I was… annoyed that the Don’s faction had sicced Dr Carstaires on Tansy, and before I got it into my head that they were doing the right thing, and one shouldn’t punish them for it, well, Paige did some digging for dirt, and found something. Two things. If I can bring her in on a link group?”
She nods. So I pull up a group with me, Tansy, Paige and the Head. “Okay, Paige, you’re up, what did you find?”
“First one’s a security camera capture of a conversation of Tansy’s alphas with the Don in the hospital.” And she plays the conversation.
When it finishes, the head’s tight-lipped and clearly furious. “You knew, Miss Walcutt?”
“Ma’am, it was news to me when this conversation happened. But I’ve known since.”
“I want that DVD. Do you have it?”
“No ma’am. I can tell you where I put it, but Cody will have moved it.”
“I’ll have a conversation with him about the matter shortly. Miss Donner, can you pass the location of that recording to security please.”
“And there is a second thing?”
Paige sends a nod. “An incident with Hamper and Damper”, and she plays the before and after. “We were curious what happened in the middle, but they hid from the cameras. However, we found this. It’s a view of a nearby window, that has a street light reflected. Long story short, Jules was able to recover audio from the window’s vibration. Rewinding… over to Jules.”
I put the audio onto the group. When it has finished, it’s clear that the Head is barely controlling fury. “They said you had put them up to that. Did you, Miss Walcutt?”
“Ma’am, what I told them to do was rough them up and make sure they were caught stealing by security. I’ll swear to that and Fubar can scan me on it. I had no idea what they actually did until this morning. Yesterday when we looked at it we paused it before then.”
“Why did you pause it.”
“I was overwhelmed with guilt. Jules asked Paige to stop.”
“Before the detail?”
“I knew they had hurt Elaine and Joanne on my order, it was enough.”
“She’s telling the truth. At the time, it was negligent, but not intended to go that far. An act of ill-considered anger and desperation. And she is genuinely remorseful now.”
I’m guessing Foob is tapping the link content out of our heads. He doesn’t need to read the connection if the endpoint is wide open.
“Very well, Miss Donner, please pass these recordings on to Security, too. And Miss Walcutt, we will be having further conversations about this matter. Jules, since you’re clearly ringleader here, for what reason did you not bring these to me immediately?”
“I didn’t want to implicate Tansy, ma’am. When she had a hunch and we re-reviewed the audio all the way through today before meeting you, she changed that and decided we should show you both of them.”
“I see.” She pauses and thinks for a moment. “Alright. Because of that decision, I now have the evidence to throw two rapists out of my school, and a lead on evidence that will let me throw out a slaver. Jules, you say you aren’t doing this as an act of retribution against Sebastiano?”
“I realised the impulse to do that was irrationally defensive. It was my impulse, although it swept the others up. But reporting me for messing with Tansy’s mind was actually the right thing to do, even if it was done with spite. Therefore slamming back would be the wrong thing to do.”
“You suggested earlier that you regarded it as an attack on Tansy?”
“It was, the Don doesn’t know me from a goldfish. He was angry at Tansy suddenly snubbing his group. And I was angry at him for interfering with her.”
“Very well. I will speak to Doctor Bellows about your impulsive anger there. You have made yourself very powerful, and that means you are going to have to learn how to be slow to anger. Thankfully, this time, good has come of it. That will not always be the case. And there are many situations, I speak from experience, where”oops" is nowhere near enough. Am I understood?"